New Medication to Treat the Flu: Is it Worth it?

There's a new flu drug on the market. But, is it right for you?

There’s a new antiviral drug for the flu, the first in nearly two decades. But, what sets Xofluza apart, how much will it cost and how does it work? Jason Losee, DO, UnityPoint Health, explains what you need to know to make the right decision for you and your family’s health.

Prescription Flu Medicine Options

Dr. Losee says as of now, Tamiflu is the most commonly prescribed antiviral for the flu.

“Tamiflu and the other antivirals on the market primarily work by blocking the release of the new virus,” Dr. Losee says. “The virus still replicates, but it can’t get out of the cell to infect the new round of cells to further the flu virus. Xofluza works differently. It blocks the virus’s ability to replicate, stopping it from progressing.”

Tamiflu is often preferred because it can be used in any age group. However, Xofluza is convenient because it’s a one-time dose. Besides the Xofluza and Tamiflu, there are two other antivirals on the market. If you’re faced with deciding between the options, you’ll want to know the differences.

Xofluza

For anyone 12 and older
One dose, pill form

Tamiflu

Any age, including infants
Liquid or pill form, 2 times a day for 5 days

Peramivir

For anyone 2 and older
One-time, IV dose

Zanamivir

For anyone 7 and older
Inhaled, 2 times a day for 5 days

How Do I Choose the Best Medication for the Flu?

Dr. Losee says all antiviral medication must be started within 48 hours from when symptoms began. All the medications treat strains of influenza A and influenza B. These medications also generally carry the same side effects, including upset stomach, nausea, vomiting and/or headaches.

“With any antiviral medication for influenza, we are most interested in considering the use of these medicines in people who are at higher risk, including those with other medical conditions that might make fighting off the flu difficult. For the general healthy population, the benefits are extremely small. We can expect a case of the flu to last about two weeks in somebody, and if the medications are started within two days, at best, they typically shorten the duration of the symptoms by a day or less,” Dr. Losee says.


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What About the Price of Xofluza?

Since the 2018/2019 flu season is the first time you’ll be able to access Xofluza, Dr. Losee says it’ll probably be expensive and likely won’t be covered by insurance.

“I anticipate most people will be paying out of pocket for Xofluza. I did talk to a local pharmacy who thought it would be somewhere around $100-150. Some pharmacies might not stock it this year, and if they do, they’ll probably keep a small amount on-hand. If a pharmacy doesn’t have it in stock, usually they can get it within a day. But, when you are working on a 48-hour timeframe, that might not work for you,” Dr. Losee says.

He recommends calling your pharmacy and/or your insurance before deciding to try the new drug to understand the expensive and to make sure it’s in stock.


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